Meet the New MK: Joint List's Touma-Sliman wants to enact feminist laws, improve lives of Arabs

Before becoming an MK, she headed the largest Arab women's NGO in Israel and was the editor-in-chief of an Arab-language daily newspaper.

Joint Arab List MK Aida Touma-Sliman (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Joint Arab List MK Aida Touma-Sliman
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Name: Aida Touma-Suleiman
Party: The Joint List (Hadash)
Age: 50
Hometown: Acre
Family status: Widow, two daughters
Profession before becoming an MK: Director-General of Women Against Violence, the largest Arab women’s NGO in Israel, and editor-in-chief of Al-Ittihad, an Arab-language daily newspaper
Why did you decide to enter politics?
I was never out of politics. I started at a young age as part of my party’s student movement and was part of the party leadership.
I decided to run for the Knesset because I think I can contribute to the population I represent, through legislation and oversight of government policies, management and services. I have a worldview about social and political rights and peace that should be represented in the Knesset. I see the Knesset as a platform to promote these stances and serve the public that I come from.
What are the first three bills you plan to propose?
I already proposed a bill that March 8, International Women’s Day, should be a mandatory vacation day. I also plan to propose bills connected to students’ rights, like canceling VAT on textbooks.
The main thing I want to work on are laws connected to rights of the Arab population. I want to help return the people of Ikrit and Kafr Bir’am to their villages [near the Lebanese border, which had thousands of Arab residents before 1948].
What was the most interesting experience on the campaign trail?
It was interesting to run on The Joint List. Coming from Hadash, a communist party, and running on a list with people who come from different ideological directions was very interesting and challenging.
There was also the discourse in this election. I had unforgettable experiences of sitting on panels with candidates, who are now MKs, who expressed very racist and extremist stances. It hurt my heart to see young people siding with them and made me think about our future.
This Knesset has a record high number of women and Israeli Arabs. How do you think this will affect the way it functions and the kinds of changes it brings?
I don’t use the term “Israeli Arabs” to describe the people I represent; they’re the Arab population.
I think it’s revolutionary to see The Joint List become the third-largest party in the Knesset.
It’s a clear statement that the representation of this population cannot be pushed to the sidelines or ignored. I think it will bring the discourse of equality into high gear.
Though I’m a feminist and support female representation everywhere, some of the women MKs do not really represent what I want to see: Feminist values, democratic values, support for the rights of the marginalized and oppressed. I very much hope that there will be more feminist voices in the Knesset and not just a higher number of women.
What is your position on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state?
I think it is the right of the Palestinian people to exist in an independent state in [1949 armistice lines] including east Jerusalem. I think that this is the basic line that ensures peace and security for both nations. The Israeli government, which apparently [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu will lead, must understand that we cannot continue the occupation and settlement policies. We cannot rob the Palestinians of this possibility [of having a state] and the citizens of Israel of being able to live in peace.
What impact do you think the tension in US-Israel relations will have on us in the next few years?
I think the existing tension will deepen if the Israeli government and Netanyahu continue ignoring all the demands of the world, which rejects the continued occupation and settlement policy. I think the time has come for Netanyahu to understand that if he wants to be strong on the Right of the political map, it will come at the price of Israel’s standing in the world. The international community understands there is no such thing as an enlightened or humane occupation. People want to see Israel ending the occupation and heading toward peace. I know the US and Israel have very strong ties based on shared interests in the world and the region, but everything has a limit.
What can be done to lower the cost of housing?
We have to stop giving land to developers who make a fortune off the average citizen. The state has to initiate public housing and give citizens the option to choose that, or affordable housing. At the same time, I think the time has come for the government to deal with the housing crisis among Arabs, which is a bit different. First of all, for Arabs, they need to expand the jurisdiction of their local authorities and authorize unrecognized villages, especially in the Negev. They also must authorize the master plans for Arab villages and legalize homes that are being threatened with demolition.
What should the government do to lower the poverty rate?
Reducing poverty requires a major, integrated program. First, minimum wage must be raised, because 40 percent of poor people in Israel work, which means their salaries are not high enough. Second, I think we need economic reform to try to bring more and more people in to the workforce.
That requires moving the concentration of the economy from the center of the country to the periphery. We have to take income from natural resources like gas and phosphates and other things so that the state receives it and not corporations and [wealthy] families that take advantage of it. That will bring a lot of income to the government, which can use it to enact programs to reduce poverty and increase the citizens’ welfare.
Is there something else people should know about you?
Despite my disappointment and concern about the results of the election, in which voters strengthened the right, I think all citizens of Israel should see what is happening and where the government is leading us and wake up. We can demand a real change in socioeconomic policies and mainly the policy of occupation, as well as treatment of the Arab population.
The demands that I and my friends on the Joint List are making in the Knesset can help all citizens have a better situation.